Philadelphia Removes Criminal Penalties for Pot Possession

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Beginning on October 20th, 2014, possession of small amounts of marijuana in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will be a civil offense with no criminal penalties. That means that once the policy takes effect, Philadelphia will become the largest city to effectively decriminalize marijuana possession.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed the bill into law this last Wednesday, October 1st, 2014. The bill was written and backed by council member James Kenney. Kenney and organizations like NORML, however, remains concerned because the root of the issue with discriminatory enforcement of prohibition lies in the ability of local law enforcement to “stop and frisk” people.

Under the new law, while marijuana possession itself will not be a crime, refusing to provide state-issued identification upon being found in possession of cannabis will be a crime. This means that young men of color and people from a impoverished background will likely still be subject to criminal penalties for marijuana possession, while the middle class will largely be exempt from punishment.

Still, despite the imbalanced implications of the new law, Philadelphia is taking a big step in the right direction in regard to cannabis policy. When the new law takes effect on October 20th, possession of up to slightly more than one ounce of marijuana (up to thirty grams) will be reclassified as a non-summary civil offense, which carries a $25 fine and results in no arrest and no criminal record. Public use of cannabis has a larger fine of $100 and the possibility of community service associated with it.

Photo Credit: Dave Z [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons